healthy cakes

By Laura Parr

In a word, no, healthy cakes aren’t possible, because so many of the common ingredients are high in fat and sugar. But if you don’t want to always make blow-out dishes, then there are little tricks and substitutions you can make that will make a difference. I have a number of recipes that I’ve gathered over the years that are my go-to favourites for when I’ve got friends coming over or for birthday celebrations. If baking can’t be good for the body, it can be good for the soul.

So what can you do to make cakes healthier? The ingredients typically used to make a classic cake recipe (think Victoria sponge!) are flour, sugar, butter and eggs. Butter is the most common fat used in cake making, but it is much higher in saturated fat than, say, olive oil. Olive oil cakes have a lovely light texture – just be careful when substituting oil for hard fats because it doesn’t convert like-for-like, so you’ll need less oil than you would butter. One of my all-time favourite cake recipes is Jamie’s polenta and apple cake, which uses olive oil in the base instead of butter.

The baking aisle in the supermarket is awash with baking ingredients these days – it’s quite a challenge knowing your chia seeds from your wholegrain spelt flour! I’m always experimenting with different ingredients at home and my current favourite is gluten-free flour, which isn’t necessarily a new ingredient, but I do love swapping it into recipes to see the effect I get. It works really well in biscuit and cookie recipes, and I believe it’s the combination of rice, potato, tapioca and maize flour that helps create a lovely crumbly texture.

So my kitchen cupboard at home is bursting with different types of flours –spelt, seeded, rye, malt, wholemeal and lots more. I’ll often swap in either all or part of the flour to create different flavours in some of my favourite recipes. Spelt flour works well in bread and pasta recipes and seeded flour is good in crumble toppings, because of the nutty flavour and texture it gives. Pancake recipes are also resilient enough to be made with different flours.  Flours such as wholemeal, spelt and rye are a source of fibre, however, in baking this goodness is normally offset by the fat and sugar also used in baking!

Veggie cakes are delicious!

Cakes made from vegetables aren’t a new concept – carrot cake is one of my favourites – but how about trying out some different ideas? Naturally sweet vegetables such as parsnip, beetroot and courgette work well. Jamie has several cake recipes online that use them, including his butternut squash muffins and a gorgeous beetroot and chocolate cake, both of which I would strongly recommend! I’m not suggesting that this is a good way of getting your five a day of fruit and vegetables, but it’s good to consider different ways they can be prepared and eaten, and they do make for a delicious treat!

If you’re a stickler for following a recipe in military fashion, get your creative juices flowing and try out some of the suggestions above, or let us know what ingredient swaps and tricks you use in our comments section. Happy baking! 

 

Laura Parr

About the author

Laura is a registered nutritionist and head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver. Her passion for food comes from having cooking lessons at a local college from the age of 10, and the nutrition side has always been driven by being fascinated by how eating the right foods can fuel the body. Believe it or not, her favourite foodie treat is an afternoon tea... only eaten occasionally, of course!

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  • Joseph Bailey Harris

    Of course healthy backing is possible! Firstly though, you must want to actually eat healthy, because the substitutes are going to have a slightly altered taste, one which you may not be used to initially. However, you can mix up some incredibly sweet brownies or really crunchy cookies with really healthy ingredients! For example these are my Sweet Potato brownies:

    - 1 sweet potato, (chopped into cubes and steamed).
    - 14 pitted dates, (roughly chopped)
    - 3 tbsp of pure maple syrup or manuka honey, (must be pure maple syrup if you want it to be healthy as it retains all it’s natural goodness).
    - 4 tbsp of cacao powder, (cacao, in brief, is basically chocolate before all the rubbish has been added to it; it’s high in protein, iron, magnesium, and is considered one of the most healthy foods).
    - 3/4 cup of buckwheat flour, (I use a standard coffee mug).
    - 3/4 cup of powdered almonds
    - A sprinkle of sea salt.

    Steam the sweet potato for around 20 minutes, so it’s super soft and will just mush up. Add that to the dates and blend until a lovely sticky mixture forms. Simply add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together well.

    Then line a medium sized baking tray with greaseproof paper, adding the mixture in a spreading out evenly.

    Bake for about half an hour until you can put a knife through the brownies and it comes out clean.

    Delicious!

    Joseph.

    • Pippa

      Hi Joseph,
      They sound great. What setting on the oven do you use?

      • Joseph Bailey Harris

        Thanks Pippa. Should have probably specified that! 180 does it perfectly for me as they go a little crispy round the edges, but lovely and soft in the middle. Enjoy!

  • Letizia Bagnoli

    BUT POLENTA IN THIS RECEIPE IS THE FLOUR OR THE SOLID POLENTA?

  • Gunnel Euren Bal

    Dear jamie
    Did you know
    that its not the Fat (any fat)
    but the Sugar (any sugar)
    that’s the Big Killer?
    check it out !
    please :)

    • Alex

      good point! EXACTLY. And it is soooooo easy to make healthy cake, instead of sugar you use date sugar or birch sugar, instead of wheat flour you use for example spelt flour, almond flour, cocontu flour oats flour and that’s the whole secret
      To make it super healthy use coconout oil instead of butter.
      Dear God, why it still so super-secret what people shoud eat not to get massively ill!

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